Love at first sight or lust at first sight? Here’s how to spot the difference

It’s easy to confuse lust with love, particularly at the start of a relationship, but experts say it’s important to know the difference. Here’s why. 

An Australian survey shows 66 per cent of us believe “love at first sight” is possible. 

Yet, according to researchers, people who say they’ve felt it are instead experiencing intense physical attraction – or, in other words, lust.  

“It’s very common for people to confuse lust with love, especially in the early stages of a relationship,” relationship coach Nicole Colantoni says. 

“When we experience strong physical attraction, our bodies release hormones, creating a sense of pleasure and connection – these feelings can be overwhelming, and we may interpret them as a sign that we’ve found ‘the one’.”

Nicole says society reinforces this idea, associating love with passion and romance, and conditioning us to believe physical intimacy is the most important aspect of a relationship.

The pitfalls of confusing lust with love

There’s nothing wrong with lust, but dating coach Iona Yeung says mistaking it for love can be problematic. 

“It can be a big blow for someone’s self-esteem and morale if they walk into dating thinking it’s love when it’s lust,” Iona says. 

“Knowing the difference can really help manage your expectations and save you from heartache in the long run.” 

Nicole adds that mistaking lust for love can lead to impulsive decisions, such as rushing into a sexual relationship. 

“This can put someone at risk of physical and emotional harm as they may not have established healthy boundaries or communicated their expectations and needs,” Nicole says.

“They may later realise they aren’t compatible on a deeper level and the relationship may not last, which can lead to heartbreak or even regret as they may feel used, disappointed or betrayed by the other person – and this may affect their ability to trust and form healthy relationships in the future.”

How to tell the difference between lust and love

Nicole describes lust as a strong desire for someone, usually based on physical attraction or sexual chemistry, whereas love is a deeper, more enduring emotion that involves a strong attachment, affection and care for another person. 

“To differentiate between lust, or initial attraction, and love, it’s important to take a step back and assess the nature of the relationship,” Nicole says. 

“If all you have in common is what’s going on between the sheets, it’s probably not love!”

Iona agrees, and says asking yourself a few questions can help.

“Ask yourself, ‘Beyond physical looks, what else do I find attractive in the person I’m dating?’,” Iona suggests. 

“Also, do you share the same values? And if you were to describe the person to your friends, what words would you use?” 

Iona says descriptions based mainly on physical features would indicate it may be lust more than love.

Can you be in lust and in love?

While love takes longer than lust to develop, can the two exist at the same time?

Nicole says it’s important to keep in mind that love and sexual desire can coexist in a relationship – and that physical attraction is a vital component of a healthy romantic relationship.

“Additionally, it’s important to remember that love isn’t just a feeling, but a choice to commit to another person and to work together to build a fulfilling and satisfying relationship,” Nicole says. 

“It’s not just about the initial attraction, but about creating a meaningful relationship with someone you care for.”

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Written by Karen Fittall.